Yale Survey Finds Crying a Common Experience among Medical Students and Points to its Potential Value for Physician Education

In an essay published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a Yale School of Medicine faculty member reported that the vast majority of Yale medical students cried as a result of emotional encounters with patients during their first year of clinical rotations and that the experience of strong emotions can have an important impact on their education as physicians.

For two years, Associate Dean for Student Affairs Nancy R. Angoff, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine, surveyed all Yale students at the end of their required third-year clinical rotations, asking them, “During your clincial rotations, did you ever cry?” Of the 182 students asked, 133 said they had cried at least once, 30 had been on the verge of crying, and 19 denied crying. Many, however, reported that they felt isolated by the experience or hid their crying.

In her JAMA essay, “Crying in the Curriculum,” Angoff wrote of those findings, “Medical educators who fail to look for or listen to stories of crying may be missing an opportunity to have an impact on students’ emotional lives and their development as caring physicians.”

Angoff said, “Crying is extremely prevalent in medical schools. I don’t think it is unique to Yale, but people rarely realize it. We need to recognize it and use it in the clinical setting to teach students to become more caring, compassionate and thoughtful physicians.”

Students told her stories of their crying, several of which she recounts in her JAMA essay, which appeared in the September 5 issue. Students were often worried that their crying would appear unprofessional, especially in a field that has traditionally emphasized the need for emotional restraint. “Most felt reluctant to have others on their rotation team know they had cried,” she said. “We should let students know that not only is it normal and okay, but it may be a sign of a valuable capacity for compassion.”

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Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326